Cyprus stands ready to aid Greece with manpower and equipment to help fight dozens of fires that broke out around Athens on Friday sending people fleeing from their homes.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou had contacted his Greek counterpart and Cyprus offered ground forces-personnel and equipment, Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos said. “We are on standby,” he said. “As a first stage Cyprus will send around 60 firefighters if Greece asks.”
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides also tweeted that Cyprus stood ready to help.
He later told Sigmalive that firefighting teams from the emergency service EMAK and civil defence were ready to leave for Greece at a moment’s notice. He said that the Greek authorities would first seek air support from Italy but with winds expected to pick up, Cyprus might receive the call for help on Saturday.
Fire service spokesman Leonidas Leonidou told the Cyprus Mail later on Friday that that the Greek government had not yet put in a request for help. “But we are ready if asked,” he said. Logistically however, he said, such a move would involve the Greek airforce having to send C130 aircraft to the Andreas Papandreou air base in Paphos, and the local fire services directing fire engines and manpower there to be carried to Greece.
There would also be the issue of how much manpower and equipment could be spared given that Cyprus itself issued a forest fire warning on Friday and resources were already stretched. But, Leonidou said, Cyprus would spare whatever help it could for Greece if the request came through.
Forest fires fanned by strong winds and high temperatures broke out around Athens and in other parts of southern Greece on Friday, sending residents fleeing from flames threatening their homes.
Rescue boats battled gale-force winds to reach about 200 people who had taken refuge in a bay, ferrying them to safety, the coastguard said. Twelve other people were rescued from a separate beach.
Summer wildfires, though common for the season, heaped additional misery on the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, which is struggling to obtain a new bailout from foreign creditors.
The police said 52 separate fires had broken out on four main fronts in a region stretching from the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, to the southern Peloponnese.
A 58-year-old died after inhaling fumes and suffering respiratory problems but there were no other reports of casualties.
Tsipras urged calm as more than 140 firefighters with 80 fire engines and 11 aircraft battled the flames near Athens that crept close to homes.
A neighbourhood playground was razed and flames surrounded the local church. Dozens of people, including elderly women covering their faces with headscarves, tried to put out the flames with buckets of water.
“We all need to stay calm,” Tsipras told reporters.
He said he had asked the air force and armed forces for help and had also appealed to other European countries for assistance with extra fire-fighting aircraft.
Forest fires are common during the summer months in Greece but memories remain vivid of the huge damage and heavy loss of life in 2007, during the most serious outbreak in decades.
The fires started on several fronts was and Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said arson was possible.
“Armed forces have been ordered to start patrols throughout Greece, and particularly in mountainous regions,” he said.
Television footage showed huge plumes of smoke billowing over the town of Neapolis, with a wall of fire racing down a mountain fanned by very strong winds. Authorities said three communities in the region were evacuated.
“The situation is difficult,” said Michalis Karagiannis, deputy mayor of Vyronas, one of the suburbs near the flames.
Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who spoke to Greek TV from the scene with a protective mask across his face, said: “We are all making an effort to stop the worst.”
He was heckled by angry residents who accused him of doing “micro politics” and urged him to “take off your jacket and help”.
In the region of Laconia in the southern Peloponnese one fire-fighting aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing.
“Things are very bad,” Peloponnese Governor Petros Tatoulis told state television. “The situation is critical. We are working to prevent casualties.”
Adamantia Koroni, deputy head of a hoteliers’ association on the nearby island of Cythera, said about 40,000 visitors and residents were left without power on the popular tourist destination “probably until Sunday”, and four hotels were forced to share one generator.